Edward John Eyre

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I came up with a plan which struck terror into those wretched men FAR more than death. I made them hang each other. They begged to be shot rather than do this. The effect on the living was terrifying.
~ Governor Eyre bragging of his punishment for the Morant Bay rebels.

Edward John Eyre (5 August 1815 – 30 November 1901) was an English land explorer of the Australian continent, colonial administrator, and a controversial Governor of Jamaica.

Morant Bay rebellion

In 1865, the Morant Bay rebellion occured, when Jamaicans began rioting in response to the shooting of several Jamaicans protesting a heavy poll tax which many could not afford. Eyre responded by declaring martial law. After atrocities committed by both sides, Eyre eventually defeated the rebellion, and he and General Luke Smythe O'Connor were responsible for reprisals:

  • Several accused men were shot and hanged up in the local church to intimidate locals.
  • Many critics of Eyre were accused of participating in the rebellion and shot.
  • British troops were ordered to raze Jamaican towns and execute Jamaicans without trial.
  • Eyre forced convicted rebels to hang each other rather than be shot, something they begged to be shot rather than do. Eyre took great pride in the fear this inflicted upon them.

Due to the unpopularity of Eyre's methods of retribution, he was eventually sacked from his position. He was also charged with the murder of George William Gordon, a high-profile case during which Eyre had a man executed despite no evidence that he participated in the rebellion, but he was acquitted.

Despite Eyre's brutal methods, he was (and still is) a controversial figure, as reports of atrocities committed by the rebels caused many to believe that Eyre's brutal actions were necessary.